Thursday, February 1, 2018

“Making Love” in Georgian and Victorian Novels

Lover's Tryst by Richard Borrmeister

February is a special month on Historical Romance Review as it's the month in which we celebrate love and Valentine's Day (as well as Pirate, Privateer & Love on the High Seas romances). So I thought to begin with an interesting tidbit from history.

What did the Georgians and Victorians mean by "making love"?

Research on this issue was the project of Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher, a hygiene academic who, between 1892 and 1920, persuaded 45 women to fill out questionnaires on their experiences of sex, marriage and contraception. 

Not surprisingly, the results show that most women knew little about sex before marriage with some admitting they only picked up the facts of life by observing the habits of farm animals. But once married, most women said that their sex lives were active and they enjoyed the “habitual bodily expression of love”.

As Fraser Sutherland notes in his essay Why Making Love Isn’t What It Used to Be, where he examines the writing of Victorian men of letters, the term “make love” has undergone change over the last several centuries. Early on, the phrase referred to both wooing and sexual intercourse.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists the first date for the term “to make love” as 1567, citing Certaine Tragicall Discourses of Bandello with many Georgian and Victorian uses listed as well:

1768, L. Sterne Sentimental Journey “You have been making love to me all this while.”
1784, R. Bage Barham Downs “You..may make love, and play your pitty patties.”
1829, W. Cobbett Advice to Young Men “It is an old saying, ‘Praise the child, and you make love to the mother’.”
1845, T. Hood Poems (1846) “Oh there's nothing in life like making love.”

Thus, the term’s euphemistic usage was firmly entrenched by the early seventeenth century, and remained so into the early twentieth century.

Take a look at my Georgian and Regency Novels, including my Valentine’s Day novella, The Shamrock & The Rose where the hero and heroine do, eventually, "make love". See them on my Website.


  1. I've noticed in old writings and even vintage movies that the term making love often means either saying sweet things or kissing. It's funny how so many terms change meaning over the years.

    1. I'm sure the term has meant different things to different people, Donna. I did find Sutherland's article interesting, however.

  2. Thank you, Regan. I'll now use the phrase more confidently in my own books!